With the onset and progression of the COVID-19 pandemic throughout 2020, senior living providers implemented many new environmental protocols and protections across their communities from surface cleaning to air purification.
But cleaning and purifying air only addresses the new air coming into a space and cannot clean the air that is already there, where coughing and sneezing happen. In all living spaces, the air is continuously picking up contaminants (i.e. virus particles) from people and the environment, so ensuring proper levels of humidity can vastly improve the safety of the environment for senior living residents. Humidification does this by optimizing individuals’ internal respiratory defenses and otherwise limiting the spread of airborne viral material.
Further, attention to relative humidity (RH) can create a healthier environment for all operating within a community’s walls.
“Healthy levels of humidification can help to reduce the spread of the virus and in particular to protect staff, patients and residents, many of whom are our most vulnerable population,” says Duncan Curd, Global Business Development leader for DriSteem, a global provider of humidification systems, in a recent webinar.
In fact, research shows that when a room’s RH drops below 40%, incidents of respiratory illness increase. Indoor environments are usually between 20-30% RH, which is inadequate for protection against viruses like COVID-19. By approaching senior living environments with attention to humidity, operators can create healthier environments, reduce the spread of illness including COVID-19, and achieve efficiencies and cost savings.
Why humidity matters
A healthy level of humidity in the range of 40-60% RH reduces the level effectiveness that a virus has, studies show. Relative humidity describes the amount of moisture in the air at a certain temperature compared to what the air can “hold” at that temperature.
This 40-60% RH level also supports the body’s natural resistance to viral infection by allowing its built-in barriers and self-clearing respiratory functions to thrive. Further, at optimal humidity levels, aging residents can reduce many common ailments such as cracked skin, static shock, and allergy triggers — essentially occupant discomforts that can be common in communal living environments.
Preventing viral transmission and other infections with humidification
Humidification protects the body from a range of discomforts, but most importantly for long-term care and skilled nursing residents, it can significantly reduce the spread of viral infection, among other potentially life threatening infections.
Most critically during the pandemic, humidification can help to reduce the transmission of COVID-19. It can also support senior living environments during the annual flu season, and can reduce bacterial infections such as bacterial pneumonia, C. Difficile, medicine resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) — all common and sometimes life threatening conditions among senior living residents.
With respect to flu transmission, a 2016 pilot study conducted by Jennifer Reiman, PhD of the Mayo Clinic tested the hypothesis that “increasing RH to 40 to 60% in school classrooms would reduce the capacity of influenza to survive on surfaces or spread between classmates as aerosols.”
In the pilot study findings, humidification of the classroom environment reduced flu-positive samples in the air, on surfaces, and led to fear viral copies and infectivity.
“This is the first prospective study suggesting that exogenous humidification could serve as a scalable NPI [non-pharmaceutical intervention] for influenza or other viral outbreaks,” the pilot study concluded.
Incorporating humidification in senior living settings
There are several options for incorporating humidification into community settings, from single-unit electrode humidifiers to steam dispersion options that are installed in or near the central air handling system and operate through the community’s duct system. DriSteem offers an electrode humidifier, for example, that is equipped for single-room humidification, which can be wall mounted with steam dispersed directly into a resident’s unit.
The company offers a broad range of commercial and industrial options that can serve buildings of all kinds. DriSteem’s gas-fired GTS® humidifier LX series offers high efficiency and PVC venting which can help keep installation costs low.
In contrast to single-use protective measures against viral spread such as hand-sanitizer and masks, humidification systems can have a lifespan of 20 years.
Humidification and the future prevention of viral spread
The pandemic brought to light many of the serious concerns around viral spread in senior living communities, and the degree to which viruses can spread rapidly in these settings. A targeted approach to humidification can help senior living communities reduce the spread of virus not only during the pandemic, but for years to come.
To learn more about DriSteem and how humidification can work to improve the safety of your senior living community, visit DriSteem’s resources on Humidification in Senior Living.